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Mon, 18 Dec 2017, 07:54 AM

Homegrown Top Fuel Dragsters Part V
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2017 Steve Reyes

The next group of NorCal AA/FD's were a tight band of racers from the Walnut Creek, California, area. Jim Davis was a racer, race car builder, innovator, husband and father. He was also tough as nails and raced that way with his wife Carol at his side. I would say Carol is the reason he got back in a top fuel car after a horrific crash broke his neck. She nursed him back to health and gave him the green light to continue in the top fuel class as a driver. Davis became a fixture at Fremont where many of his customers ran their new Jim Davis chassis race cars. In late 1966, he introduced the first portable starter to be hooked up to a blown race car engine. His invention eliminated push starts and his process is still used today in drag racing to start top fuel and funny cars.

One of Jim Davis' closest friends was ex-motorcycle racer Don Cook. "Cookie" as most NorCal racers called him started out in top fuel with Dwight Bale as his partner. When Cook and Bale raced they took turns driving each round. It was a bit strange but I guess it worked for a while. When Cook left the team, Bale picked up another partner, "Carpetman" Dennis Baca. Again, it was a driver switch every round with the Baca and Bale AA/FD team until Baca left to field his own Davis built AA/FD. This left Bale as a solo act but because he also drove the Conquest blown fuel hydro his time was limited at the drag strip.

Meanwhile, Cook was tearing it up at the NorCal drag strips; in fact, he ran an unheard of 223 mph at Fremont, so "Cookie's" new nickname became "Mr. 223." Cook's AA/FD was no show piece but heck, it ran well and was always in the money rounds.

While Davis raced and built cars, Cook was going really fast and Bale was trying to race both on the strip and the water. Dennis Baca was honing his skills as a top fuel owner and driver. Baca emerged as one of the major players in the world of top fuel dragster racing in the USA. All four of these racers continued racing but with mixed results. In the early 1970s, Davis was injured in a blow over crash at Bakersfield, Cook became a touring pro on the AHRA circuit, Baca toured nationwide with his AA/FD and made his mark in top fuel racing. The most tragic of all was the death of Dwight Bale. Here was a guy who raced at 200 mph on the dragstrip and on the water, only to drown in a white-water rafting accident. That accident almost took the life of Jim Davis who barely escaped with his own life. Life sure can be fickle.

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Jim Davis and his Texas Lizard AA/FD was a fixture at Fremont, California. Not only did
Davis race in top fuel, he also had a very successful chassis building business.
Very much an innovator with his starter system for AA/FD'S. This innovation soon
spilled over into the new funny car class.

Here Davis raced friend, foe and customer Dennis Baca in a 1968 top fuel clash
at Fremont. Also, after winning top fuel at Sacramento in 1969, Davis was flanked by
Marsha Bennett "Miss California" and his always present wife Carol. Through good
times and bad, Carol was always there for Jim.

Ex-motorcycle racer Don Cook learned the ways of top fuel racing with a short term partnership
with Dwight Bale. The Cook and Bale team shared driving of their AA/FD in 1965-66.
When Cook finally went solo, he purchased a Davis chassis, put in his own home built 392 Hemi,
scorched the Fremont racing surface with a 223mph clocking that earned him the nickname "Mr. 223."

In 1971, Don Cook was an AHRA touring top fuel pro. Back in late 1966, Cook teamed with
Jim Nicoll and raced the first ever Der Weinerschnitzel AA/FD. Then the duo went their separate
ways and Cook's AA/FD became his first full-bodied Southwind in 1967-68.

The Southwind was one of the nicer cars that Cook raced in California and then on the AHRA circuit.
In 1971, Cook debuted his best-looking AA/FD at West Palm Beach, Florida. This was his final
AA/FD before switching to a rear-engine top fuel dragster.

The Northern California "Carpetman" Dennis Baca raced as a partner with Dwight Bale after
Bale and Cook split. Soon Baca was nestled in the cockpit of his own Jim Davis built AA/FD in 1967.
On January 1, 1968, Baca scored big with a top fuel eliminator win at Lodi, California's New Year's Day bash.
This was Baca and son David celebrating their top fuel win.

This 1969-70 AA/FD of Baca's was one of the best looking and running cars on the nation's
top fuel circuit. With his business going great, Baca packed up his fuel car and headed
to large and small events all over the United States. Here he was in the top fuel parade at the
1970 NHRA Nationals. Baca continued to race on the national scene for almost three decades
and won his share of races.

Dwight Bale was a biker, a blown hydro driver, and a top fuel owner/driver. With his
purple AA/FD he helped start the careers of Don Cook and Dennis Baca.

When at the drag strip, Dwight Bale could be found behind the wheel of his
Purple Haze AA/FD and then his Gypsy AA/FD. On the water, Bale was a terror in the
conquest blown fuel hydro. I was a bit surprised that Bale continued to drive the Conquest
after his brother Mac lost his life driving a blown fuel hydro only a short few months prior.

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